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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

Playing with fire: Paramedic smoking dismissals seem draconian

In drug dependency testing, employers often offer diversion programs for its staff to go through

By Arthur Hsieh

Oh, wow.

Like my fellow columnist Kelly's rant on the rule — written before these dismissals — I am troubled by the labor action taken against the line medics for having failed a nicotine blood test.

Not knowing all of the facts, but were they provided due process? Is there a danger to the public for the employees for using nicotine? Is there a similar rule for having trace ethanol or prescription drugs in a random drug test?

It's a bit difficult to pass full judgment. But, if the goal to have nonsmoking employees is to help reduce health care premiums, this is like trying to hit a nail on the head with a pile driver.

In drug dependency testing, employers often offer diversion programs for its staff to go through, before any further employment action is taken.

It would seem rather draconian to actually terminate an employee for a medical condition, without any assistance from the employer to help the employee overcome the dependency.

Perhaps the help was offered, and it didn't work out. It could be that the employees were provided due process in overcoming a problem that would keep them from being employed by the agency.

Lest there be no confusion, I hope that the staff can overcome a medical situation that truly endangers their health.

But to be terminated for the legal activity would seem to point to an unfair policy that has little to stand on. 

About the author

EMS1 Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. Since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at an EMS service in Northern California. Contact Art at
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